There has always been a marked sincerity in what Indian Ocean has created for a quarter of a century, their sounds hovering somewhere in between discontent and rapture of simple things in life. The men never followed a verse-chorus format, something that was and is still one of the band’s most potent ammo. For a generation growing up in the ’90s, Rahul Ram, Susmit Sen, Amit Kilam and Asheem Chakravarty were ferocious blasts of folk rock, with tunes seeping into all the right places. But with Sen calling it quits last year, four years after Chakravarty passed away, one wondered where the band was headed. With no new music coming out of their arsenal, there were hushed overtones about the band losing its Midas touch. Almost 13 months after the induction of guitarist Nikhil Rao, Indian Ocean 2.0 is ready with an album Tandanu, their seventh in a lifespan of 25 years.
“The juncture at which Susmit left, there was a staleness to things. We were doing the same things over and over. We then began rigorous jam sessions everyday to get Nikhil used to us and for us to get used to him. This helped rejuvenate all of us,” says Ram, about the seven-track album for which the members have collaborated with seven artistes, something the band has never attempted in the past. There’s Grammy winner Pt Vishwamohan Bhatt, percussionist Karsh Kale, vocalist Shubha Mudgal, violinist Kumaresh Rajgopalan, singers Shankar Mahadevan and Vishal Dadlani, and percussionist V Selvaganesh adding their preludes, interludes and master strokes. “These are really fine artistes and we admire them. We didn’t want them to come in as fillers in songs. We wanted them to be a part of the process and write the songs with us,” says Kilam.
The result is a spirited and evolved record, which is packed with goodness and freshness. It has even helped them discover a different groove. “We have touched a lot of different genres, which was the fun bit,” says Ram, about the album which is being released digitally, one song a week. The physical release will take place in June.
There’s the flowing Behne do, loosely based on raag Vrindavani Sarang, which has Kale on drums and tabla. New member Himanshu Joshi’s vocals soar effortlessly and are backed by unhurried sprinkles of guitars and bass. Longing opens with a gorgeous Carnatic classical violin prelude. The song soon goes into an interesting riff followed by a chorus. Charkha has a bhapang in the background paired with Ram’s vocals. It’s a low key yet impressive piece in Asavari. Bhatt’s Mohanveena joins in soon, providing rich interludes. He treats the Mohanveena like a steel guitar, turning the song into a sprawling beauty. With Mudgal, the band has used Gar ho sake, an old protest song. Mudgal’s bass voice shines in this one with some fine orchestration. The album’s centrepiece, Tandanu, is a collaboration with Mahadevan and a Carnatic classical track with a set of table bols (rhythmic syllables) sung with power and poignancy.
As of now, the band is modifying the tracks for the live shows apart from turning the album into a long playing record which will be sold as collector’s edition for the nation’s audiophiles. “This is us drawing some narcissistic pleasure out of it,” concludes Ram.